Tuesday is Election Day. You know the mantra: Our ancestors died for the right to die. It’s your civic responsibility. It could be a lot worse. Vote for the lesser of two evils. This is the most important election since [fill in the blank].
If you’re unsure of the location of your polling place, hours of operation or who’s on the ballot, there’s an app for that -- Get to the Polls.
While I’m a voting rights activist, I understand why many are skeptical about the efficacy of voting. It seems like little ever changes for the better. Yes, your vote is your voice. But the change you want doesn’t just happen. You have to make it happen.
Turning out to vote is the first step. But civic engagement is a process, not an event. Truth be told, elected officials want you to go away after you vote for them. To make a difference, you must stay engaged after Election Day.
You also must hold those for whom you vote accountable. No elected official should be given a pass simply because he or she looks like you.
Fifty years ago in June 1964, hundreds of students from across the country joined civil rights activists and changed the course of American history. Freedom Summer, aka the Mississippi Summer Project, was a 10-week campaign to register African American voters in Mississippi, and operate Freedom Schools and community programs.
It’s no secret that I love music. So I celebrate black music every month. However, the official designation of June as Black Music Month came about through the efforts of Grammy award-winning songwriter and producer -- and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee -- Kenny Gamble.
In a 2013 interview, Mr. Gamble told The Root about the catalyst for the celebration:
The Black Music Association was a trade association at the time, and it was an educational forum for young producers and writers -- African Americans in particular -- where they could discuss the benefits of the music industry. History says that most African Americans in the industry were robbed of their songs and their property. The Black Music Association spoke to the marketing of black music. The whole theme was “Black Music Is Green,” and it dealt with the economics of African-American music. It was very helpful not only to us but also the industry at large.
Then the Black Music Association created Black Music Month, which was another original, because October was Country Music Month. What happens when you have a music month? You get additional marketing dollars, and it helps to market and promote the artists.
There was a guy named Clarence Avant who was pretty close to Democratic politicians like [President Jimmy] Carter. The administration had a country music night at the White House, so I called and asked, “Hey, Clarence, can you get us a black music night at the White House?” Thank God he was successful, and it was a beautiful night on the White House lawn.
Chuck Berry was there, so he did “Lucille,” playing his guitar. Little Richard was there, and Evelyn “Champagne” King was a young artist then, so she sang her first or second record. Billy Eckstine, who’s a legend, he sang, too. The whole atmosphere of the evening reflected an idea whose time had come, and it was good to see the whole music industry there and celebrating this original American music. When you talk about jazz, the blues and rhythm and blues, this is what America produced, and it has influenced many other types of music.
Our country is home to a proud legacy of African-American musicians whose songs transcend genre. They make us move, make us think, and make us feel the full range of emotion -- from the pain of isolation to the power of human connection. During African-American Music Appreciation Month, we celebrate artists whose works both tell and shape our Nation’s story.
For centuries, African-American music has lifted the voices of those whose poetry is born from struggle. As generations of slaves toiled in the most brutal of conditions, they joined their voices in faithful chords that both captured the depths of their sorrow and wove visions of a brighter day. At a time when dance floors were divided, rhythm and blues and rock and roll helped bring us together. And as activists marched for their civil rights, they faced hatred with song. Theirs was a movement with a soundtrack -- spirituals that fed their souls and protest songs that sharpened their desire to right the great wrongs of their time.
The influence of African-American artists resounds each day through symphony halls, church sanctuaries, music studios, and vast arenas. It fills us with inspiration and calls us to action. This month, as we honor the history of African-American music, let it continue to give us hope and carry us forward -- as one people and one Nation.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2014 as African-American Music Appreciation Month. I call upon public officials, educators, and all the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate activities and programs that raise awareness and foster appreciation of music that is composed, arranged, or performed by African Americans.
For more information on the origins of Black Music Month, check out Dyana Williams.
While I love jazz, I live for the blues. I don’t remember a time in my life when the blues didn’t touch me to my core.
Growing up in Brooklyn, Jimmy McGriff’s Hammond B-3 organ fueled my imagination. So it was awesome to discover McGriff perfected his craft in organ joints in West Philly.
The blues is the prism through which I view the world. The musical genre shaped my self-image and my expectations about male-female relationships. It captured my joy. When that joy turned to pain, “I cried like a baby.” But guess what? “Everything is really all right.”
The blues is more than a feeling. It’s a state of mind. Since we were “brought over on a ship,” blues has been our sanctuary.
This is music with humble beginnings, roots in slavery and segregation, a society that rarely treated black Americans with the dignity and respect that they deserved. The blues bore witness to these hard times. And like so many of the men and women who sang them, the blues refused to be limited by the circumstances of their birth.
The music migrated north—from Mississippi Delta to Memphis to my hometown in Chicago. It helped lay the foundation for rock and roll and R&B and hip-hop. It inspired artists and audiences around the world. And as tonight’s performers will demonstrate, the blues continue to draw a crowd. Because this music speaks to something universal. No one goes through life without both joy and pain, triumph and sorrow. The blues gets all of that, sometimes with just one lyric or one note.
Blacks learned how to sing the blues rather than just giving up on life. A guy’s wife walks out on him with his best friend. And he’s crushed. So what does he say? Instead of going out and taking a gun and killing he sings a song “I’m going down to the railroad to lay my poor head on the track. I’m going down to the railroad to lay my poor head on the track. And when the locomotive comes I’m gonna pull my fool head back.
I’m not giving up life over this. That life goes on beyond this. Pain is just for a moment. This whole notion about what we’re going through is only a season. And this came to pass, didn’t come to stay. That’s what the blues do. And that’s what the music tradition does.
When black folks were connected to the blues, we had a plan and we worked that plan. The plan took us from the slave master’s house to claiming victory at the White House, where President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The blues is how we got over. This is turn begs the question: What’s not to love?
God has wrought many things out of oppression. He has endowed his creatures with the capacity to create—and from this capacity has flowed the sweet songs of sorrow and joy that have allowed man to cope with his environment and many different situations.
Jazz speaks for life. The Blues tell the story of life's difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph.
This is triumphant music.
Modern jazz has continued in this tradition, singing the songs of a more complicated urban existence. When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument.
It is no wonder that so much of the search for identity among American Negroes was championed by Jazz musicians. Long before the modern essayists and scholars wrote of racial identity as a problem for a multiracial world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was stirring within their souls.
Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.
And now, Jazz is exported to the world. For in the particular struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the universal struggle of modern man. Everybody has the Blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for faith.
In music, especially this broad category called Jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.